WATCH: Fascinating pictures offer a glimpse at Suffolk village life dating back as far as 1890
PUBLISHED: 19:10 06 December 2018
A Suffolk village hall improvement project hopes to preserve an archive of thousands of documents and photographs, offering a unique insight into rural life across the ages.
People in Westleton are trying to raise £120,000 before Christmas to attract additional funding to restore the historic Grade II listed building, which is said to play a “vital” community role.
The project would see an extension and refurbishment of the old Victorian school hall to host events and for organisations to meet.
Project leaders have also highlighted the hall’s role as a village archive centre, which they want to keep for future generations.
“There are some 8,000 documents in the village archive which are mostly stored in a damp and decaying shed and what were the outside earth closets in the old school yard,” said village hall volunteer Anne Ingram.
“While items over 100 years old and in need of special environmental conditions are held by Suffolk Records Office in Ipswich, the village is keen to keep the remaining documents in Westleton so they can be easily accessed by the community and visitors, and displayed at the Village Exhibition.”
The archive includes details of the village’s first school, a thatched cottage in Darsham Road, which was later a home until being destroyed by fire during the First World War.
It also highlights the changing role of the village hall itself, which was first built as a school on a site at the lower end of the village green, which had been presented by Sir Gervais Blois in 1840.
Records show many child diseases and deaths in the village around 1862, including from scarlet fever and diphtheria, which has been attributed to the building’s flood-prone location.
Designed by Robert Appleton and built in 1842, it is said to be one of the oldest schools in east Suffolk and one of the region’s oldest community buildings still in use. The builder, John Brown, was known as “Dobbler Brown because of the liberal dabs of mortar on his trowel”, records show.
By 1967, just 30 pupils attended the school and it was closed, later reopening as a village hall.
In 1970 a charity was established to own and manage the hall on behalf of the local community.
“We have an extensive collection of photographs dating from 1890 recording village life from the day-to-day activities such as haymaking to the celebrations of the local Barrel Fair and the Armistice, captured by Alf Fisk,” Mrs Ingram added.
“There is a fascinating collection of the school records. In 1863 we find ‘No boys in class all doing field work, and only one girl’.
“In September 1939 all teachers’ holidays were cancelled on the account of outbreak of war and the school opened with 65 Westleton children and 40 evacuees.
“In 1944 a bomb fell in the village and made the boiler leak, and it appears to have leaked intermittently ever since.”
The improvement project will cost just over £700,000. The Big Lottery Fund has pledged £460,000 if the villagers can raise their share by the end of 2018.
Email Hall for All for details of how to donate.